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6 Subtle Signs of Acid Reflux You Might Be Ignoring

Acid reflux can masquerade as everything from a cold to poor dental hygiene. If you notice any of the following GERD signs, especially if you also get typical heartburn symptoms, talk to your doctor.

woman holding neck and throatAnut21ng Photo / Shutterstock

Sore throat or hoarseness

A sore throat that doesn’t go away and isn’t accompanied by typical cold symptoms (like a runny nose) may in fact be a symptom of acid reflux. “Your throat feels sore because a little bit of acid is coming up from the esophagus and irritating the throat,” says Gina Sam, MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist and the director of the Mount Sinai Gastrointestinal Motility Center in New York, NY. Unexplained hoarseness may be caused by stomach acid moving up to your larynx, or voice box, and tends to be more noticeable in the mornings when it’s had all night to travel while you were lying down. These natural remedies for heartburn relief may help silent acid reflux too.

A woman holding her forehead in her left hand and a tissue to her mouth.iStock/RuslanGuzov

Persistent cough or wheezing

“Wheezing or a cough that mimics asthma or bronchitis can be caused by acid reflux moving from the stomach to the lungs,” says Evan Dellon, MD, the director of the Center for Esophageal Diseases and Swallowing at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, NC. On the other hand, wheezers and coughers can sometimes make themselves more prone to reflux, says Dr. Dellon, because the actions put pressure on the belly and push stomach acid upward.

Woman dental patient opening her mouth while her dentist inspects her teeth with a hand mirror.iStock/STEEX

You’re having dental problems

If you’re a dedicated brusher and flosser but your dentist is still filling cavities, tells you your tooth enamel is eroding, or notices discoloration, acid reflux may be to blame. “Even a small amount of acid reflux making its way up from the esophagus to your throat or mouth while lying down can impact tooth enamel,” says Dr. Dellon. It’s a good idea to avoid eating these foods if you have acid reflux.

A woman turned to the side, holding up her left hand to her left ear as if it's causing her pain.iStock/SIphotography

Your ears ring

If your ears always ring, especially after a meal, it may be caused by reflux getting into the sinuses and even the interior of the ear, says Dr. Sam. “A lot of patients see their ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) to get consults about sinus pain and ear ringing, but it’s often acid reflux.”

A woman wearing a T-shirt and holding her throat in her right hand as if in pain.iStock/Remains

You have trouble swallowing

Food getting stuck when you swallow, liquid that just won’t go down, or the sensation that something is stuck in your throat could all be acid reflux symptoms, says Dr. Sam. Chronic reflux can irritate the throat, and scar tissue can develop in the esophagus and narrow it. See your doctor if you have difficulty swallowing, as this can also be a symptom of other more serious conditions. Don’t miss these foods that can make your heartburn and reflux worse.

A woman wearing a white towel blowing her nose into a tissue.iStock/OJO_Images

Nasal congestion

Nasal congestion that comes and goes may be one of the acid reflux symptoms you’re ignoring. “If you’ve tried cutting down on reflux-producing foods or eating late at night and the symptom doesn’t go away, it’s probably just congestion,” says Dr. Sam. “But if it goes away and comes back, and then goes away again, it’s probably acid reflux.” If this or other symptoms continue to bother you, check in with your doctor. Don’t miss these home remedies for GERD and heartburn. Your stomach will thank you.

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Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on August 19, 2019